IT WOULD BE INTERESTING to know how most New Zealanders responded to the “They Are Us” movie project. The prospect of a movie recounting their country’s response to the Christchurch mosque attacks of 15 March 2019 would undoubtedly have evoked feelings of pride in a very large number of New Zealanders. That the central character of this historical drama was to be their own Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, would likewise have thrilled many Kiwis. Of equal interest, and perhaps more importance, however, would be some measure of New Zealanders’ reaction to the extraordinary hostility the “They Are Us” project has generated.
Over the space of just a few days, upwards of 55,000 signatures were gathered on-line for a petition opposing the film’s production. Within 48-hours of the project’s announcement, the Office of the Prime Minister felt obliged to issue a statement distancing Ardern from the production and making it clear that she’d had no warning of the film-makers’ intentions. The Mayor of Christchurch, Leanne Dalziel, publicly pilloried the project and curtly informed its promoters that they and their production crew would not be welcome in her city.
What motivated this astonishing outpouring of negativity and resistance? After all, the film’s promoters had made it clear from the get-go that the movie they hoped to make was not about the terrorist attack itself, or its victims, but about how a nation responded to an act of unprecedented savagery. Necessarily, the leader of that nation would be at the centre of the narrative because the New Zealand Prime Minister’s handling of the tragedy was a critical factor in shaping the overall response of her people.
It is important to pause here and acknowledge that Ardern’s reaction to the Christchurch shootings was as close to perfect as human-beings get. The world was by turns astonished and uplifted by her words and gestures. Ardern allowed humanity to rise above the evil of the terrorist’s actions. Few politicians are blessed with the skills to make such a contribution. So, why is it that so many have moved with such speed, and so much venom, to prevent this extraordinary story from being translated to the screen – and told again?
Superficially, the explanation is to be found in the film’s critics’ belief that the story of the Christchurch shootings belongs exclusively to its victims. That any work of art that fails to locate the terrorist’s, Brenton Tarrant’s, victims at its heart is not worth making. It is their story: not Jacinda Ardern’s story; not New Zealand’s story; not the World’s story; and no one has the right to make it anything else. As conceived, runs this argument, “They Are Us” reduces the attacks’ Muslim casualties to bit-players in their own tragedy. Tarrant treated them as objects to be used, and now the film’s promoters seem determined to do the same.
In one sense, those who make this argument are quite correct. Without the victims there is not only no story, but also no terror. Tarrant’s act has no meaning without the 51 defenceless Muslim worshippers who fell beneath his bullets. Likewise, without witnesses there can be no horror. Without families and friends left to grieve the dead, no pain. That’s how terrorism works. That’s why terrorism works.
Terrorism cannot be overcome, however, by fetishizing the horror and pain it causes and walling them in with its survivors. The act of terrorism is, by definition, a political act, and its intention is not only to shock, but to numb. The terrorist seeks to engender feelings of helplessness and, like all torturers, is hoping to extinguish hope itself. The evil of terrorism does not stop there, however, because the terrorist is also hoping to incite acts of political vengeance that will, in the long run, advance his cause.
When the followers of Osama Bin Laden flew jet airliners into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, they all knew that the resulting destruction of life and property would not materially weaken the United States. But, that was never the point. The purpose of the 9/11 attacks were to drive America mad: to set her on a course towards disaster and decline; to create a frenzied giant that would end up demolishing its own house. And, if we’re being truthful, they succeeded – beyond their wildest dreams.
Intentionally or inadvertently (it matters little) Tarrant’s terrorism has also successfully distorted the targeted country’s politics. Long before the Christchurch shooter pulled the trigger of his MSSA, there were individuals and groups on the left of New Zealand politics who characterised their country as a deeply immoral colonial state, founded upon and maintained by the principle of white supremacy. Its mostly European citizens, they alleged, were incurably racist, and their primary victims were the indigenous Maori. This systemic racism was not, however, confined to Maori. Xenophobia and Islamophobia were deeply ingrained in the White New Zealand population.
Tarrant’s crime offered those who subscribed to these ideas an extraordinary opportunity to inject them into the bloodstream of the political mainstream. Almost immediately, the Christchurch shootings were represented as the inevitable outcome of New Zealand’s white supremacist culture. A political agenda began to be advanced, which, if implemented in full, will result in the criminalisation of all thought and speech deemed inimical to the extreme anti-racist ideology. Depressingly, a great deal of this extremist agenda ended up in the recommendations of the Royal Commission of Inquiry Into The Christchurch Mosque Shootings.
Over the past two years, much energy has been expended on the Left to mask the central fact of the Christchurch tragedy: that it was conceived and executed by a Australian who had been radicalised online and overseas and who chose New Zealand to carry out his attack precisely because it was the least likely location for an act of white supremacist terrorism to be contemplated.
The truth of the latter proposition was demonstrated immediately following the Christchurch attacks by the statements and gestures of Jacinda Ardern, and by the answering outpouring of love and solidarity from the tens-of-thousands of Kiwis who gathered in all the main centres to express their determination to prevent Tarrant’s evil act from defiling and defining their nation. The last thing New Zealand’s anti-racist extremists need now is a feature film which re-tells and re-animates those feelings of love and solidarity.
Those demanding the abandonment of the “They Are Us” project have accused its promoters of using the victims of the tragedy as props in an outrageous attempt to further entrench the white privilege of Prime Minister Ardern, and to marginalise still further the 1.2 percent of New Zealanders who are Muslims. It is, however, possible to turn that attack on its head by observing that these anti-racist extremists could just as easily be accused of using the victims of the Christchurch shootings as a means of shutting down a cultural project that would show the world just how decent a society New Zealand’s truly is.
It is, quite simply, wrong to insist that the tragic events of 15 March 2019 belong to anything, or anyone, but History itself. Nor should it be forgotten that History lives only in its re-telling. The truth of the events that shape a nation emerges from many voices, many perspectives. The tragedy that unfolded at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques no more belongs to its victims than it does to its perpetrator. It belongs to the whole world. It is us.
This essay was originally posted on the Interest.co.nz website on Monday, 14 June 2021.
This is the truth
It's not as if the world is overflowing with movies about the effective political leadership of younger female leaders. Good job to the wokesters for making sure there will be one fewer.
Like many people I'm not a fan of religion. Like many people I went to a public meeting (something I never do) to support the tiny Muslim population of the small town I work in. So did hundreds of others from all walks of life. I walked past a mosque covered in flowers. The people who want to mock these efforts or suggest they are insincere are welcome to leave the country. Decent New Zealanders don't want them here and they are just making things worse by their presence.
Bravo. Ka pai.
Kia ora Chris
On this matter I wrote to The Daily Blog
"You can call the Islamic Youth Association "woke" if you like, but they have a point. All the indications are that the movie is intended to glorify the role of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, with the victims of the massacre providing the necessary backdrop.
Put this in context. The Prime Minister has suppressed public discussion of the origins of the massacre and the acts or omissions of her government which made it possible. Should she now be allowed to make political capital out of it?
In the circumstances the very idea of such a movie is offensive to right thinking people. It should not be banned, but people should be made aware that it is an exercise in gross political cynicism."
This comment was blocked by the moderator of TDB, along with many other comments critical of the movie project. Never-the-less, it seems that TDB struggles to find readers to write in favour the movie.
I think the supporters of the movie have proved my point: that it is cynical and, I would now add, hypocritical political ploy.
If you were willing to tell the whole story in documentary rather than fictional form then people would support you. Unfortunately, by your own decisions, you cannot go there. Not for the next thirty years if at all.
New Zealanders respect freedom of speech and want to know the facts. They don't regard Hollywood propaganda designed to glorify the current government as a satisfactory substitute.
I lost an old friend in the massacre, as it happens a "white woman" although she would not have called herself such. In her own eyes she was just a Muslim. I don't believe that you or Ms Ardern have done her justice, because you have not allowed the true circumstances of her death to be seen by all.
Go ahead, produce your propaganda film, suppress any criticism, and continue to suppress the truth about the Al Noor massacre, but do not expect that in doing so you will win the battle for hearts and minds of New Zealanders.
I basically agree with your post. However, much of the concern is about the timing of the film. For many people, perhaps even most, it is just too soon. Emotions are too raw.
Maybe in another 3 years or so, it will seem more appropriate. For just about all great events, which tear at people and nations, some time goes by before films are made and books are written.
In the pocket Chris. Chapeau.
The truth is, there is almost NO benevolent slant to justify such a film, two years following the atrocity!
That anyone, however facile, could truly believe otherwise defies credulity.
From the get go, it smacked to me of a crude hagiography of Ardern, written solely, and shamefully with a political motive behind it.
The revelation today that one of the producers ( who as I type, I read, has today resigned ) is married to a prominent political supporter of Ardern does nothing to dispel the stench of chicanery !
In essence, an astoundingly 'bum note' at multiple levels really.
To mangle a Hunter Thompson quote; “The film business is uglier than most things–some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the entertainment industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and decent men suffer, for no good reason.”
Sure this production may proceed somehow, somewhere, but New Zealanders and the authorities need not support it in any way whatsoever. It seems in bad taste, and haste at the very least.
Chris wrote: "the central fact of the Christchurch tragedy: that it was conceived and executed by a Australian who had been radicalised online and overseas and who chose New Zealand to carry out his attack precisely because it was the least likely location for an act of white supremacist terrorism to be contemplated."
What is the relevance of the "central fact" that Brenton Tarrant is Australian? Does it show that Australians are more likely than New Zealanders to murder Muslims en masse?
Admittedly, we have other cases to consider, such as the numerous and well documented murders of civilians by Australian forces in Afghanistan.
But if you can make that case against the Australians (which I do not necessarily concede), where should that leave relations between New Zealand and its Anzac ally?
How can you argue on 15 March that New Zealanders are better than their murderous Australian neighbours and then on 25 April that Australians and New Zealanders are peas from the same pod, best mates forever?
A must listen:
It's extraordinary but Pakeha Woke Authoritarians - emanating largely from financially-privileged Establishment families & disproportionately inheriting the wealth from Colonisation - have apparently convinced themselves that they are members of some sort of Priestly Caste that possesses unusually refined moral sensibilities.
The reality is pretty much the antithesis ... narcissistic elitists, authoritarian users & abusers who will systematically scapegoat lower & middle-income 'Outgroups' (deploying all the vicious projection that that process necessarily entails) to consolidate their own financial privilege, protect their status & enhance their social prestige.
The CRT emphasis on 'Whiteness' rather than the vastly more consequential socio-economic class and its insistence that Anglosphere Countries are irredeemably White Supremacist is a core facet of the broader strategy. As is the deeply paternalistic Noble Savage Romanticism (bordering on Fetishisation) of Indigenous People, minimizing, downplaying or casually excusing, for instance, the disproportionate violence perpetrated by Maori men, particularly within the Underclass & metaphorically throwing their victims to the wolves ... the stats that dare not speak their name.
Win-Win scenario for them. Aggressively advertise yourself as progressive & uniquely morally-virtuous while vigorously ensuring you do precisely zero of the suffering.
It's actually a textbook response by the self-interested Children of the Elite to the threat to their class position & social status from Maori grievances & the broader Maori challenge to the Status Quo.
Chris. Lee Williams of Cross the Rubicon Channel is no longer allowed to Bank with Westpac. At which point is enough is enough and stay in your lane?
Movies will surely be made about Jacinda Ardern, just like the movies that have been made about Winston Churchill, only perhaps a little further down the annals of time. The entire world knows about our PM, and the potency of the "they are us" narrative is irrefutable. Surely we can only consider ourselves as fortunate to have such a sure footed and globally respected PM at the helm in these uncertain times. But for the time being the movies can wait, especially for a New Zealand actress to play the role of Jacinda Ardern.
Very complex Chris, I had to read several times. I understand the hostility of the victims but hadn't realised the subtext of anti white settler state in other opposition to the film. That is very concerning.
Im against it for other reasons. Its too raw and painful for the victims yes. The concept lacks dignity, by way of the box office it is a commercial enterprise to extract dollars from our emotions. Further to depict Adern without her blessing seems very exploitative and insulting. Its just a step too far.
Yawn. Ardern simply said 'they are us' and donned a headscarf and hugged families of victims etc. She milked it for her own political gain, just as she has with Covid. The movie should not belong to her, nor should it even be made, it's just in very poor taste. Can you never ever see the woods for the trees, Chris.
My feelings are summed up by my take on your title 'Nobody owns the Christchurch tragedy'. And the 'owns' of my meaning is where someone or group take a detracting word relating to themselves, and embrace it with strength. Some feminists have done this with 'bitch' and accept it with a positive meaning of their own, meaning 'strong, assertive'. As yet the Christchurch Mosque people have received medical assistance and soothing words, floral tributes, and kindness but no-one down there has 'owned' it, nor has government set them in place as a special case for support at all levels. Widows are being given the cold-blooded NZ Neolib treatment and being asked to find a job, as well as look after their children, on top of their distress at losing the strength and comfort of their marriage partner. Graffiti and jibes and feelings of colour or culture making them targets for those being brought up as street-sweepings have caused I think five families to leave their homes and return to their families.
So I think some rah rah thing about our Prime Minister's reaction and showing NZ as the victim of world-wide indoctrination of anomic men, Australian style, misses the important point of it not honouring the families' feelings, which are still raw. Checking it on the kindness and practicality measure, it isn't kind to those needing kindness, and it isn't practical to make it so soon. The media is good at whipping up interest in long-ago foulness, it fascinates for ever. So it will still be timely in ten years' time. At present, from an objective POV, we would end up with more bad vibes than the expected good ones, and commercially it will still be a goer at the end of the decade.
"From the get go, it smacked to me of a crude hagiography of Ardern, written solely, and shamefully with a political motive behind it."
No, it was written solely and shamefully to make money out of a tragedy. And if you think any different I have a bridge I'd like to sell you.
Film, at this level, isn't just art or social commentary - it's very much commerce.
The plan seems to be to make a cultural value-object very much like The Queen, which was a highly profitable cultural value-object.
It will probably still be made, by committee, under a title chosen by committee to minimize risk. It will say no more than the inevitable TV1 film will say, probably less. After re-traumatizing some of the victims, and giving the divisive elements in NZ society more fuel for their boilers.
An artist for real could make an unwanted film to the best of their ability by their own private lights anyway and face the consequences. Hollywood isn't like that. It's too soon for that crew to talk about filming this story, like it's too soon to have a "We Are Us" brand of soft drink.
GS, with all the whaleoilesque evident in some comments you could have a least a dozen bridges to sell.
Well then how would you win an academy award? It doesn't make since to go to the government for a screen play and cancealing art doesn't make sense because we should have dragged every head of department with the responsibility of stopping terrorism through the mud but we didn't and instead of usingcthe artist to publicly vilify these Muppets the unemployed art critics thinks its a badge of honour to censor the art.
(It's probably not censorship because it isn't law, cancellation culture maybe I don't know maybe you or Trotter know?)
Had to be said.. superb analogue of the current situation, however not to be picky the complete findings of the investigation are to be locked down for 60 years.
Puddleg - Makes good points - really says it all.
What about making a documentary in a few years' time? When the affected people have recovered somewhat. You don't recover completely from something like that of course, not in a whole life time.
I feel awe and amazement as to how Jews have managed to go on after 6 million of them were industrially killed in a few short years, and also Soviet civilians about 6 million, Soviet prisoners of war 3 million, Non-Jewish Polish civilians 1.8 million, and Romani about 1 million deaths. https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/documenting-numbers-of-victims-of-the-holocaust-and-nazi-persecution and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romani_genocide
We have managed to fence off in our minds the horror and the bloodstain on our idea of being noble and enlightened, a civilised humanity, and we talk about, read, see it. But for those who have lost their people and their past, it is a deep wound that will remain and the pain arise again throughout their lives.
The Muslim people are just a microcosm of other atrocities but will have the same reaction.
The people who want to mock these efforts or suggest they are insincere are welcome to leave the country. Decent New Zealanders don't want them here and they are just making things worse by their presence.
All very well but the aim of policy goes to a point where here is uncertain since the aim is to make pluralistic societies rather than maintain a status quo and absorb people.
The question at that Hui on at the moment is who the hell runs it. Stopping terrorism is obviously necessary but the main aim is social cohesion in a pluralistic society. That's why we are looking at Ardern's silent censorship. People happen to value intergenerational nationhood - that's inconvenient. Just because Adern has an noise making machine equal to the US military doesn't mean we are listening.
Hate Speech Forensics
This is a speech (2000) by "the people's historian" Michael King in which he argues (rationalises) that he doesn't feel guilty about colonisation of Maori: his Tierney Grandmother keeps telling him they had 400 years of oppression by the English and have a much stronger case to hate them than Maori.
Most importantly his point is that Pakeha (pale skinned persons) are now indigenous. As you can see this is resisted by Critical Theorists.
A questioner at the end of the speech asks about the term "tauiwi" (foreigner in this land). The Methodist Church adopted the term. King notes that Massey University made the term the one to use "at council level".
The (later) Pro-Vice Chancellor of Massey University edited this book in 1984. In 1987 the "much awaited" changes to the immigration act included the observation that "diversity had been of immense value to the country in the past and would continue to be even more so in the future".
From then on the official discourse was set to immigration is good diversity is positive and nationhood is one generation thick.
Maori resistance came from two sources; Maori were National voters (conservative) but later Marcuse/ Angela Davis and the Black Liberation movement that spread Critical Theory into Maori politics/academia.
GS's point is, of course, bang on. If there isn't a profit foreseen, no film gets made. But, within that framework, there is plenty of room to make films that are highly partisan on ongoing "culture war" issues. I think the backers of the proposed movie are keen to make a pro gun control, anti NRA sort of movie, which would play well in the big US cities. Would it play in Peoria? I don't know, but I think it would overall play well enough to make money.
The sight of a liberal, empathetic politician cracking down on the very type of gun used in a mass shooting would seem like wish fulfillment to a large section of the US population. I may be hopelessly old fashioned and/or out of touch and/or idealistic, but I think let a film be made, then a discussion can be had, after seeing what's on screen.
In fact, there is a "culture war" sort of film on screen at the moment, worthy of open discussion. "Percy vs Goliath" stars Christopher Walken as a Canadian farmer, sued by Monsanto for patent infringement. Our salt of the earth, God fearing, humble, seed saving family farmer hero is accused by evil incarnate Monsanto of growing their patented, genetically modified canola without paying the licence fee. Many of his neighbors are growing the Roundup Ready canola, and Monsanto considers our hero a freeloading cheapskate who should cough up. To cut a long story short, it goes all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court, who find for Monsanto by a margin of 9-0 on the patent infringement question. Yes, a David and Goliath story where Goliath wins. Why bother making the movie? So the Greenpeace-like activist, played by Christina Ricci, can make an impassioned speech saying the long struggle was worthwhile "because we saved wheat". And, as the credits roll, the point is made on screen that no genetically modified wheat is grown commercially anywhere. True, but part of the anti-GMO sentiment is against the use of Roundup weed killer on crops modified to be resistant to it. The weeds die, while the GM crop grows. However, it is now increasingly common to use Roundup as a desiccant, that is, to spray crops before harvest so the plants die and dry out. This makes harvesting easier. If Roundup Ready wheat was grown commercially, it would now be a disadvantage to farmers at harvest time! And Roundup Ready wheat sprayed early in the growing season only, would be less likely to leave Roundup residue in the wheat!
To repeat myself, let a film on Christchurch be made. Then let there be discussion of what's on screen. In the case of "Percy and Goliath", I think it's a muddled, dishonest, untruthful distortion of the facts, trying it's best to spin defeat as victory.
I look forward to considering other opinions, and defending my own views. As we should with any film, including any that manage to get made on Christchurch.
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